Mocked as ‘Pokémon With Guns,’ Palworld becomes an instant hit

The title is also available on Xbox consoles through the Game Pass subscription service

By The New York Times

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Published: Tue 23 Jan 2024, 6:19 PM

A video game once ridiculed for putting machine guns into the hands of cute creatures, eerily similar to the ones in Pokémon, was downloaded by an enormous audience over the weekend.

More than 300,000 players simultaneously logged on to the game, Palworld, when it was released in early access Friday, momentarily causing servers to crash and eject users from its cruel world of chickens and squirrels engaged in shootouts.

By Sunday evening, Palworld had became one of the most popular games on the planet. It has sold more than 5 million copies on the Steam marketplace and is one of the most played games ever on the platform, with concurrent users reaching 1.5 million. The title remained atop the Steam top sellers list Monday afternoon, ranked above major releases like Call of Duty and Baldur’s Gate 3, and is also available on Xbox consoles through the Game Pass subscription service.

It was an undeniable success for Pocketpair, the Tokyo studio behind the game. The company has weathered memes and mockery for the past three years after its initial trailer for Palworld drew comparisons to an apocalyptic version of Pokémon. On a page advertising the game, Pocketpair was compelled to write explicitly, “It is not a scam.”

That trailer featured players harvesting crops and raising sheep in a fantasy setting before abruptly transitioning to a gunfight where a lamb is being used as a living shield. Other scenes included virtual animals slaving away in a weapons factory, which an early description on Steam described as “essential for automation” where the creatures would “work forever as long as they’re fed until the end of their lifetime.”

The version of Palworld that was released this past weekend modified the factory gameplay, focusing instead on the more than 100 creatures that players could tame in the wilderness.

Takuro Mizobe, chief executive of Pocketpair, has resisted comparisons to Nintendo’s hit franchise. “It could be a lucky thing to have the meme of Pokémon with guns, but we totally didn’t intend it,” he said during an interview with The Gamer in 2021.

Mizobe and the game’s lead developers said then that Palworld was more akin to a survival game, with influences from Minecraft, Dragon Quest and Grand Theft Auto.

He recently told the publication Automaton that his game had completed a legal review. “We make our games very seriously,” he said in a statement, “and we have absolutely no intention of infringing upon the intellectual property of other companies.”

A spokesperson for the Pokémon Co. declined to comment. Pocketpair did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Players are still drawing the comparisons online, uploading videos to YouTube and Twitch under titles like “Pokémon with guns.”

Ryan Broderick, the journalist behind Garbage Day, a newsletter about digital culture, said his time with the game had been entertaining if superficial. Palworld satisfies a craving for Pokémon fans like him, who desire new content that experiments with the traditional formula of catching monsters and battling trainers. But he does not see Palworld as a credible replacement for the long-running series.

“As a cultural curiosity, I don’t think there is anything wrong about checking it out. But don’t expect anything good,” Broderick said. “This company made the game in the laziest way possible.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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